Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care

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Hospice Care – a well-established program to provide patients with a prognosis of six months or less. As delineated within the Medicare Hospice Bene.t, these services can be provided in the home, nursing home, residential facility, or on an inpatient unit.

  • Palliative Care Programs – institutional based programs in the hospital or nursing home to serve patients with life-threatening or life-limiting illnesses. Occur in hospital settings (academic, community, rehabilitation) and skilled nursing facilities. Provide services to patients anywhere along the disease continuum between initial diagnosis and death. Can include a consultation team, a .xed-bed unit, or a swing-bed unit.

  • Outpatient Palliative Care Programs – occur in ambulatory care settings to provide continuity of care for patients with serious or life-threatening illnesses.

  • Community Palliative Care Programs – occur in communities as consultative teams who collaborate with hospices or home health agencies to support seriously ill patients who have not yet accessed hospice.

    The continued success of this project is evidenced by how the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care encourage new programs. Accomplished either as the expansion of existing palliative and hospice programs to allow greater access to care, The Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care will: continue the development and evaluation of new and existing services, ensure consistent and high quality palliative care as measured by the National Quality Forum Preferred Practices, provide certi.cation initiatives for specialty status in palliative care, and provide recognition of specialty status for certi.cation initiatives in palliative care. Most importantly the Guidelines will serve as the basis for all palliative care settings.

    Bibliography for Background

    Center to Advance Palliative Care. New Analysis Shows Hospitals Continue to Implement Palliative Care Programs at Rapid Pace, New Medical Subspecialty Fills Gap for Aging Population [Press Release]. New York, NY: Center to Advance Palliative Care, Mount Sinai Medical Center; April 14, 2008.

    Federal Register. Medicare and Medicaid Programs: hospice conditions of participation; . nal rule. June 5, 2008; (73)109:32204.

    Institute of Medicine. Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century. 2001; Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine, National Academy Press.

    National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care. Clinical practice guidelines for quality palliative care. 2004;

    National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. NHPCO facts and . gures: hospice care in America. November 2007 Edition. Accessed August 29, 2008.

    National Quality Forum: A National Framework and Preferred Practices for Palliative and Hospice Care Quality. Washington, DC: National Quality Forum 2006.

    World Health Organization. De.nition of Palliative Care. World Health Organization Web site. Accessed December 4, 2008.

    World Health Organization. De.nition of Palliative Care for Children. World Health Organization Web site. Accessed December 4, 2008.

    Baseline Assumptions

    The following assumptions are fundamental to the use of the NCP Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care.

    • Goal guidelines: These palliative care guidelines represent goals that palliative care services should strive to attain, as opposed to minimal or lowest acceptable practices.

    • Healthcare quality standards: These palliative care guidelines assume that palliative care services will follow established practice standards and requirements for healthcare quality, such as safety, effective leadership, medical recordkeeping, and error reduction.

    • Codes of ethics: These guidelines assume adherence to established professional and organizational codes of ethics.

    • Ongoing revision: Palliative care guidelines will continue to evolve as professional practice, the evidence base, and the healthcare system change over time. In the revisions, these guidelines will continue to re. ect current evidence-based evaluation and updating.

    • Consensus guidelines: These clinical practice guidelines have been used as the basis for The National Quality Forum’s A National Framework and Preferred Practices for Palliative and Hospice Care Quality and The Joint Commission’s Voluntary Palliative Care Standards to promote the development of highest-quality clinical palliative care services along the healthcare continuum.

    • Specialty care: When this document refers to specialty-level palliative care services, it assumes provision of services by palliative care professionals within an interdisciplinary team whose work re.ects substantial involvement in the care of patients with life-threatening or debilitating chronic illnesses and their families. Palliative care quali.cations are determined by organizations granting professional credentials and programmatic accreditation.

    • Applicability of guidelines: These guidelines should promote integration and application of the principles, philosophy, and practices of palliative care across the continuum of care by both professional and certi.ed caregivers in these settings.

    Domains of Quality Palliative Care Domain 1: Structure and Processes of Care Domain 2: Physical Aspects of Care Domain 3: Psychological and Psychiatric Aspects of Care Domain 4: Social Aspects of Care Domain 5: Spiritual, Religious and Existential Aspects of Care Domain 6: Cultural Aspects of Care Domain 7: Care of the Imminently Dying Patient Domain 8: Ethical and Legal Aspects of Care

    Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care

    Excellence in specialist-level palliative care requires expertise in the clinical management of problems in multiple domains, supported by a programmatic infrastructure that furthers the goals of care and supports practitioners. In 2004, The National Consensus Project identi.ed eight domains as the framework for these guidelines: Structure and Processes; Physical Aspects of Care; Psychological and Psychiatric Aspects of Care; Social Aspects of Care; Spiritual, Religious, and Existential Aspects of Care; Cultural Aspects of Care; Care of the Imminently Dying Patient; and Ethical and Legal Aspects of Care.

    The guidelines rest on fundamental processes that cross all domains and encompass assessment, information sharing, decision making, care planning, and care delivery. Each domain is followed by speci.c clinical practice guidelines regarding professional behavior and service delivery. These are followed by justi.cations, supporting and clarifying statements, and suggested criteria for assessing whether or not the identi.ed expectation has been met. References to the literature supporting these recommendations are included in the guidelines. In addition, there are case examples to illustrate the operationalization of the domains into practice.

    Notes on Bibliographies

    We have again included select citations that provide the evidence base for each domain of the NCP Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care, Second Edition. The citations re.ect work published in the interim period since the .rst edition. They focus on well-designed, useful studies, both observational and experimental, as well as published consensus statements and expert opinions. All NCP task force members were invited to suggest key references. We also conducted a variety of literature searches in Medline and the Cochrane Collaboration and reviewed many articles. Where experimental evidence of good quality care exists, it is cited. Other citations re.ect the expert opinion of consensus efforts, professional organizations, and experts in the .eld. This document does not represent an exhaustive review of the literature relevant to hospice and palliative care.

    Notes on Exemplars

    Since the release of the .rst edition, at presentations, meetings, and conferences, many people have asked how to use the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care. The National Consensus Project Committee has offered many ideas in these discussions. However, in this second edition, we offer speci.c exemplars of how to implement and operationalize the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care. These exemplars were gleaned from various sources, including best practices demonstrated by the American Hospital Association Circle of Life Award Winners and programs that highlighted best practices in posters and conferences. We also are proud to include the National Consensus Project Leadership Award winners, who demonstrated innovation and commitment to excellence in care delivery. Supported by the Mayday Fund, these awards recognize organizations that have enhanced their palliative care services by implementing the eight domains of the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care and the 38 preferred palliative care practices de. ned in A National Framework and Preferred Practices for Palliative and Hospice Care Quality: A Consensus Report.

    DOMAIN 1: Structure and Processes of Care

    Guideline 1.1 The timely plan of care is based on a comprehensive interdisciplinary assessment of the patient and family.


    • Assessment and its documentation are interdisciplinary and coordinated.

    • Initial and subsequent comprehensive assessments are carried out through patient and family interviews, review of medical records, discussion with other providers, physical examination and assessment, and relevant laboratory and/or diagnostic tests or procedures. The consultative evaluation should include the patient’s current medical status, adequacy of diagnosis and treatment consistent with review of past history, diagnosis and treatment, and responses to past treatments.

    • Assessment includes documentation of disease status, including diagnoses and prognosis; comorbid medical and psychiatric disorders; physical and psychological symptoms; functional status; social, cultural, spiritual, and advance care planning concerns and preferences, including appropriateness of referral to hospice. Assessment of children must be conducted with consideration of age and stage of neurocognitive development.

    • Patient and family expectations, goals for care and for living, understanding of the disease and prognosis, as well as preferences for the type and site of care, are assessed and documented.

    • The assessment is reviewed on a regular basis.

    Guideline 1.2 The care plan is based on the identi.ed and expressed preferences, values, goals, and needs of the patient and family and is developed with professional guidance and support for decision making.


    • The care plan is based upon an ongoing assessment determined by goals set with patient and family and with consideration and discussion of the changing potential bene.ts and burdens of care along with assessment at critical decision points during the course of illness. Family is de.ned by the patient and may include relatives or friends.

    • The care plan is developed with the input of patient, family, caregivers, involved healthcare providers, and the palliative care team with the additional input, when indicated, of other specialists and caregivers, such as school professionals, clergy, friends, etc.

    • Care plan changes are based on the evolving needs and preferences of the patient and family over time and recognize the complex, competing, and shifting priorities in goals of care.

    • The interdisciplinary team coordinates and shares the information, provides support for decision making, develops and carries out the care plan, and communicates the palliative care plan to patient and family, to all involved health professionals, and to the responsible providers when patients transfer to different care settings.

    • Treatment and care setting alternatives are clearly documented and communicated and permit the patient and family to make informed choices.

    • Treatment decisions are based on goals of care, assessment of risk and bene.t, best evidence, and patient/family preferences. Reevaluation of treatment ef.cacy and patient-family preferences is documented.

    • It is essential that the evolving care plan is documented over time.

    Guideline 1.3 An interdisciplinary team provides services to the patient and family consistent with the care plan. In addition to nursing, medicine, and social work, other therapeutic disciplines with important assessment of patients and families include physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, nutritionists, psychologists, chaplains, and nursing assistants. For pediatrics, this should include child-life specialists. Complementary and alternative therapies may be included.


    • Specialist-level palliative care is delivered by an interdisciplinary team.

    • The team includes palliative care professionals with the appropriate patient-population-speci.c education, credentialing, and experience and the ability to meet the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs of both patient and family. Of particular importance is hiring physicians, nurses, and social workers “appropriately trained” and ultimately certi.ed in hospice and palliative care. Education should include a fundamental understanding of the domains of palliative care and the goals of the Medicare Hospice Bene.t, in addition to pain, symptoms, grief, bereavement, and communication. Ideally this occurs in preceptorships, fellowships, or in baccalaureate and graduate speci. c programs. Continuing education is an essential for professionals currently in practice.

    • The interdisciplinary palliative care team involved in the care of children, either as patients or as the children of adult patients, has expertise in the delivery of services for such children.

    • The patient and family have access to palliative care expertise and staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Respite services are available for the families and caregivers of children or adults with life-threatening illnesses.

    • The interdisciplinary team communicates regularly (at least weekly or more often as required by the clinical situation) to plan, review, and evaluate the care plan, with input from both the patient and family.

    • The team meets regularly to discuss provision of quality care, including, policies, and clinical practices.

    • Team leadership has appropriate training, quali.cations, and experience.

    • Policies for prioritizing and responding to referrals in a timely manner are documented.

    Guideline 1.4 The use of appropriately trained and supervised volunteers within the interdisciplinary team is strongly encouraged.


    • If volunteers participate, policies and procedures are in place to ensure the necessary education of volunteers and to guide recruitment, screening (including background checks), training, work practices, support, supervision, and performance evaluation and to clarify the responsibilities of the program to its volunteers.

    • Volunteers are screened, educated, coordinated, and supervised by an appropriately educated and experienced professional team member.

    Guideline 1.5 Support for education and training is available to the interdisciplinary team.


    Educational resources and continuing professional education focused on the domains of palliative care contained in this document are regularly provided to staff, and participation is documented.

    This education also should comply with federal and state licensure and credentialing regulations.

    Guideline 1.6 In its commitment to quality assessment and performance improvement, the palliative care program develops, implements, and maintains an ongoing data driven process that re.ects the complexity of the organization and focuses on palliative care outcomes.


    • The palliative care program must be committed to the pursuit of excellence and the highest quality of care and support for all patients and their families. Determining quality requires regular and systematic measurement, analysis, review, evaluation, goal setting, and revision of the processes and outcomes of care provided by the program.

    Quality care must incorporate attention at all times to:

        • Safety and the systems of care that reduce error.

        • Timeliness – care delivered to the right patient at the right time.

        • Patient-centered care, based on the goals and preferences of the patient and the family and also be inclusive of the principles of family-centered care.

        • Bene.cial and/or effective care, demonstrably in.uencing important patient outcomes or processes of care linked to desirable outcomes.

        • Equitable care that is available to all in need and all who could bene.t.

        • Ef.cient care designed to meet the actual needs of the patient so that it does not waste resources.

    • A quality assessment and performance review is done across all the domains including organizational structure, education, team utilization, assessment and effectiveness of physical, psychological, psychiatric, social, spiritual, cultural, and ethical assessment and interventions. From this, the palliative care program establishes quality improvement policies and procedures.

    • Quality improvement activities are routine, regular, reported, and are shown to in. uence clinical practice. While the palliative care organization leadership is responsible for such programs, there are designated individuals who operate the quality assessment and performance improvement program.

    • The clinical practices of palliative care programs re.ect the integration and dissemination of research and evidence of quality process.

    • Quality improvement activities for clinical services are collaborative, interdisciplinary, and focused on meeting the identi.ed needs of patients and their families.

    • Patients, families, health professionals, and the community may provide input for evaluation of the program.

    Guideline 1.7 The palliative care program recognizes the emotional impact on the palliative care team of providing care to patients with life-threatening illnesses and their families.


    • Emotional support is available to staff and volunteers as appropriate.

    • Policies guide the support of staff and volunteers, including regular meetings for review and discussion of the impact and processes of providing palliative care.

    Guideline 1.8 Palliative care programs should have a relationship with one or more hospices and other community resources to ensure continuity of the highest-quality palliative care across the illness trajectory.


    • Palliative care programs must support and promote continuity of care across settings and throughout the trajectory of illness.

    • As appropriate, patients and families are routinely informed about and offered referral to hospice and other community-based healthcare resources.

    • Referring physicians and healthcare providers are routinely informed about the availability and bene.ts of hospice and other community resources for care for their patients and families as appropriate and indicated. Policies for formal written and verbal communication about all domains in the plan of care are established between the palliative care program, hospice programs, and other major community providers involved in the patients’ care.

    • Policies enable timely and effective sharing of information among teams while safeguarding privacy.

    • Where possible, hospice and palliative care program staff routinely participate in each other’s team meetings to promote regular professional communication, collaboration, and an integrated plan of care on behalf of patients and families.

    • Palliative and hospice care programs, as well as other major community providers, routinely seek opportunities to collaborate and work in partnership to promote increased access to quality palliative care across the continuum.

    Guideline 1.9 The physical environment in which care is provided should meet the preferences, needs, and circumstances of the patient and family to the extent possible.


    • When feasible, care is provided in the setting preferred by the patient and his or her family.

    • When care is provided away from the patient’s home, the care setting addresses safety and, as appropriate and feasible, .exible or open visiting hours, space for families to visit, rest, eat, or prepare meals and to meet with the palliative care team and other professionals, as well as privacy and other needs identi.ed by the family.

    • The setting should address the unique care needs of children as patients, family members, or visitors.



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    Patient Populations

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    Patient Preferences

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    Quality Improvement

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    Team Members

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    EXEMPLAR DOMAIN 1, Guideline 1.1: Documentation

    Midwest Palliative and Hospice Care Center Uses NCP Domains of Care as Framework for Thorough Interdisciplinary Assessment

    At Midwest Palliative and Hospice, the interdisciplinary assessment is critical to providing care. To do a thorough evaluation, team members have included all of the National Consensus Project Domains into their consultation notes. Thus, the evaluation includes the pertinent documentation necessary for Medicare, such as history of present illness, past medical history, allergies, medications, family history, social history (which includes cultural and spiritual domains of care), a symptom review, prognosis, and physical examination. However, there is also a review of the domains, including processes of care, in terms of the patient’s goal for care, a review of the areas in the physical domain, a review of psychologic and psychiatric issues, social issues, spiritual issues, care for the imminently dying, and ethical and legal issues in terms of decision making. Then they make their recommendations. Thus the notes are very comprehensive and serve as a tool for the interdisciplinary team and as a teaching tool for clinicians outside palliative care.

    Palliative Care Consultative Report

    Asked to see____________________ by Dr. ____________________for issues related to:



    Process of Care

    • Goals of Care

    • Prognosis

    • Disposition

    • Safety

    Physical Aspects of Care

    Psychological Aspects of Care

    Social Aspects of Care

    Cultural Aspects of Care

    Spiritual Aspects of Care

    Ethical/Legal Aspects of Care

    F/U in:

    Note: Sample section of Palliative Care Consultative Report form reprinted with permission from Martha L. Twaddle, MD, FACP, FAAHPM, Chief Medical Officer, Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter, 2050 Claire Court, Glenview, IL 60025

    Contact: Martha L. Twaddle, MD, FACP, FAAHPM Chief Medical Of.cer Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter 2050 Claire Court Glenview, IL 60025 Tel: 847.467.7423 Assistant: Sharon K. Lannan

    EXEMPLAR DOMAIN 1, Guideline 1.3: Education

    Massachusetts General Hospital’s RN Residency Program Based on NCP Domains

    Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is a 900-bed teaching hospital with a well-established palliative care service, as well as a clinical and professional development center for patient-care services. MGH was awarded a grant funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to fund a nine-month nurse residency program titled, “RN Residency: Transitioning to Geriatrics and Palliative Care”. The program includes classroom and mentored clinical experience and is designed as a broad survey of geropalliative care nursing to address several challenges. First, geriatrics, described as the core business of hospitals, places compelling demands on nurses, most of whom have never received formal education in the .eld. Second, nurses .nd themselves in distressing moral situations whereby they are providing aggressive care of elders with unclear goals of treatment. Third, nearly 50% of deaths occur in the hospital setting; yet research .ndings consistently report poor control of pain and symptoms.

    The program uses the eight National Consensus Project Domains to frame the palliative care structure content and focus. With permission from the City of Hope, each of the domains has been aligned with the ELNEC curriculum, along with other materials and current research. Thus, using the state of the knowledge of geropalliative care, nurses can improve quality of care to elders and their families.

    MGH RN Residency Program Curriculum
    NCP Domains

    Course Materials

    1. Structure and Processes

    ELNEC Module – Overview of Palliative Care Module – Achieving Quality Care Module - Communication OTHER – NQF

    2. Physical Aspects

    ELNEC Module – Pain Management Module – Symptom Management OTHER ICU Pain Review

    3. Psychological and Psychiatric

    ELNEC Module – Loss and Grief OTHER Psychology Review

    4. Social

    OTHER Social work discussion on family systems

    5. Spiritual, Religious, and Existential

    OTHER Chaplaincy and Spiritual Assessment ELNEC

    6. Cultural Aspects of Care

    ELNEC Module – Culture

    7. Care of Imminently Dying

    ELNEC Module - Final Hours

    8. Ethics and Legal Aspects of Care

    ELNEC Module – Ethics OTHER Respecting Choices

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